“Don’t make it bigger than it is.”
Well, they don’t get much bigger than Sunday’s matchup between the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens in Paul Brown Stadium. With first place in the AFC North and a potential playoff berth on the line, this is what Decembers are all about.
But Bengals’ linebacker Markus Bailey, who will be making his first start of the season after being drafted in the seventh round last year out of Purdue, can’t afford to let it become too big.
“Focus on each play,” Bailey said earlier this week. “Just do your job. Play team football, fly around and everything tends to work out.”
Things have not worked out too well for Cincinnati linebackers so far this year. First, the team lost Jordan Evans to a torn ACL early in the season. Then Akeem Davis-Gaither required season-ending foot surgery in mid-November.
Logan Wilson suffered a shoulder injury that has kept him on the sidelines for the past couple of weeks, and Joe Bachie went down with his own ACL tear last week. Now it’s Bailey’s turn to step up.
“Markus is an instinctive player,” Bengals’ linebacker coach Al Golden said. “He’s got the quick trigger. He sees the play, understands it, and he knows when to trigger.”
Bailey will have his work cut out for him. Among other things, he will be tasked with controlling Ravens’ tight end Mark Andrews, who is on tract to set single-season team records for receptions and receiving yards. Andrews caught 10 passes for 136 yards and two scores last week against the Packers, and currently has 85 receptions for 1,062 yards and eight touchdowns.
Last week, backup quarterback Tyler Huntley (who, along with Lamar Jackson, is out this week) also used speedy wide receiver Marquise Brown as an underneath target, and Brown responded with 10 catches for 43 yards.
But, if Cincinnati hopes to pull off a season sweep of the Ravens and grab sole possession of first place in the division, it will need to get solid contributions from more than just Bailey.
With Riley Reiff on injured reserve, backup Isaiah Prince, who was in the Covid-19 protocol last week, will probably get the lion’s share of the work at right tackle. Fred Johnston, who started last week against the Broncos, is listed as questionable with an illness.
Hakeem Adeniji, who has taken over as the starter at right guard, sprained his ankle in the win over the Broncos, is listed as questionable, and his spot will likely go to Jackson Carman, who has performed well this season as the Bengals’ sixth offensive lineman. East Carolina product D’Ante Smith is back and healthy and could be an option on the right side.
Pro Football Focus gave Carman a grade of 71.0 on his 33 snaps last week, while Smith earned a mark of 55.1 on his three snaps.
Center Trey Hopkins needs to continue his improved play, and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase needs to get back to being the Rookie of the Year candidate he was earlier in the season. Chase has not gone for more than 77 yards in a game since his 201-yard effort against Baltimore, and was held to one reception for three yards last week in Denver.
So, when it’s all said and done, who wins today?
Who wins Sunday’s contest between the Bengals and Ravens?
This poll is closed